SOUTH Africa is rapidly coming in from the cold. Ever since white voters in March overwhelmingly backed continued negotiations with the African National Congress (ANC), a once-hostile world has been falling all over itself to ease South Africa's outcast status.
Among the most symbolic of recent recognitions was the welcome of South African President Frederik de Klerk to Abuja, Nigeria's new capital. Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, president of Nigeria, is also the current chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU).
When President Babangida last month rolled out the red carpet for President De Klerk, he conveyed the approval not only of Africa's most populous nation, but, informally, also of the rest of Africa. South Africa intends to apply for membership in the OAU later this year.
Remarkably, Nigeria's invitation to De Klerk was decided in Nigeria without the consultation or concurrence of the ANC. Nelson Mandela, president of the ANC, protested strongly, but Nigerian Foreign Minister Ike Nwachukwu replied that Nigeria's policies would be decided upon only by the interests of Nigeria. As far as Nigeria was concerned, the process of change in South Africa was "irreversible."
Elsewhere in Africa, long hostile nations are seeking South Africa's favor. Tanzania, for decades the home of exiled ANC guerrillas in training, has given South Africa rights to fly over its air space.
Tanzanian businessmen have also persuaded their government to request South African Airways (SAA) to fly to and from Johannesburg and Dar es Salaam. SAA already flies to and from Kenya and the Ivory Coast, as well as to neighboring countries like Zambia and Botswana. Last month, for the first time in 20 years, SAA also resumed flying to Luanda, the capital of Angola.
Diplomatic relations, including the exchange of ambassadors, are about to be resumed with the Ivory Coast and Zambia. (For decades, South Africa's only ambassador in black Africa was based in authoritarian Malawi.)
The Seychelles, off the east coast of Africa, says that it will soon resume diplomatic and trading ties to South Africa. Tiny Djibuti has done the same. Mauritius is upgrading its trade mission to consular status.
An oil embargo was once expected to compel the end of apartheid.
The European Community's oil ban was scrapped last month after seven mostly futile years, although bans on the sale of arms or sensitive military goods still remain. So does a prohibition against nuclear cooperation, the United Nations' and United States' three-decade old arms trade embargo, and the US ban on the transfer of nuclear secrets or materials.
The lifting of prohibitions on the sale of Europe's oil to South Africa will make little practical difference, since South Africa has managed to purchase, often at a stiff premium, almost all the petroleum it has needed.
INTERNALLY, however, the end of oil embargoes and other bans will call into question South Africa's own enormously costly drive for petroleum self-sufficiency. At the cost of more than $4 billion, South Africa has been attempting to find suitable sources of energy off its southwest shores. Untold billions of dollars have also been expended to produce oil from abundant coal. South Africa's coming multiracial government will presumably want and be able to spend such large sums on educational growth and oth er social improvements.
De Klerk's decision in early 1990 to release Mr. Mandela from prison and to begin negotiating the true end of apartheid has also reaped dividends beyond the purely economic and diplomatic realms.
South Africa, a sport-mad country, has been excited that its cricket team reached the World Cup semifinals and its runners recently competed in the West African games in Senegal. In August, New Zealand's famed rugby team will play five matches in South Africa.
Now that South Africans have been allowed back into world competition, Dutch and Canadian leaders have visited.
Despite Mandela's protest that it is premature to end sanctions or revive routine diplomatic and economic exchanges with South Africa, the world refuses to wait. The world's readiness to embrace South Africa reflects a widespread expectation that, although minority rule persists, apartheid is dead.